Why More People Don’t Go to the Dallas Arts District

AT&T Performing Arts Center AdI just got one of those beautiful emails from the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the Dallas Arts District. That isn’t a sarcastic comment: their emails really are beautiful. Gorgeous photos, very well designed.

They make me want to attend all sorts of events at the Winspeare Opera House, Strauss Square (the outdoor performance space) and all the other venues that are part of the Arts Center. What they don’t do well at all — and I’m sure there is a reason for this — is make it easy to figure out how much tickets for these events cost.

From the email, it took me six clicks to get to a page where pricing for this outdoor BYOB and chair concert  series was listed. And that’s when I lost interest in going. If I am going to buy $100 per person tickets (no discount for kid’s tickets), I really don’t want to have to bring my own chair — especially not my own chair with a maximum leg height of 4″ as specified in the event rules.

Marketing 101 taught me that setting the price for an event was critical to driving attendance. In this case, there’s a disconnect between the email describing the informal, outdoor, BYOB event and the price. If you want me to spend $100 per ticket, you need to convince me that I’m getting something really special — a sophisticated, exclusive evening under the stars where I’ll be able to experience something unique. And if you want me to come to an informal outdoor event where I bring my own chair, don’t expect me to pay $100 for it, please.

The Arts District Dilemna

The Arts District has a problem luring people from North Dallas and the suburbs into the downtown area for events. I think I’m fairly typical when I say that I truly do love downtown Dallas.

I grew up spending summers with my grandparents at 2208 N. Field Street, which is where the Woodall Rogers Freeway now crosses in front of the old El Fenix Restaurant, next to the Perot Museum, and I worked in downtown for a number of years early in my career. I still love the main Dallas Public Library, the Old Red Courthouse, the original Neiman Marcus Store, and the Farmer’s Market. And I love the museums and the Arts District.

But I don’t go down there very often. The reasons are simple: it’s expensive, and parking and traffic are nearly always a hassle.

Today’s experience with the email isn’t the first time I’ve clicked away from an event in the Dallas Arts District because of price. Tickets for events and venues in the area are seldom cheap. Sunday matinée tickets for the travelling company of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast range from $50 to $150 each, while tickets for the Shen Wei Dance Arts Show range from $45 to $135 each. There are less expensive shows like the comedy Ducks in a Row, where tickets are just $25, or Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, where tickets range from $15 to $57.50.

I know that good theater is worth paying for — but I don’t usually pay that much to see shows on Broadway, or in the West End, thanks to the ticket brokers and discounters. The AT&T Performing Arts Center doesn’t offer discounts, and I’ve been there more than once when the hall was half empty. (Couldn’t they contract with Goldstar or one of the other ticket discounters to sell unsold seats? Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth and Casa Manana do — but they generally sell out, and their prices are usually lower than the ones in Dallas, which is why we sometimes make the 40-mile drive to Fort Worth to see a show that’s visiting both cities.)

There are bargains to be found in the Dallas Arts District, notably The Dallas Museum of Art and The Crow Collection of Asian Art which both offer free admission. (There is a fee for some special exhibits.) But it costs $21 for adults and $13 for kids at the Dallas World Aquarium, while admission to the Perot Museum of Science is $27 per person. (And at the Perot, you are given a specific admission time, and there’s no discount if your admission time is late in the day.)

But it isn’t just the price of admission that turns people off when it comes to driving downtown to an event or venue in the Dallas Arts District. It’s the sheer hassle factor involved for a suburbanite unused to navigating the one-way streets and traffic of downtown Dallas.

Parking at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, for example, is $15. (I don’t want to walk around downtown at night from wherever I find on-street parking — it certainly won’t be within comfortable walking distance of the art museum. Not for someone my age, with my bad knees.) It can run even higher at some of the other parking garages in the area. Sure, there’s public transportation. But do you want to be standing on a street corner in an unfamiliar downtown neighborhood after dark while waiting for a train? With a child or two? I don’t.

Catherine Cuellar, director of the Dallas Arts District, was one of the speakers at the TEDx Turtle Creek event last month. You can see her presentation at this link.  She made a point of highlighting the multi-cultural history of the Dallas Arts District, and pointing out the free events that take place in the Arts District, notably Clyde Warren Park’s many free events.

She talked about how the Arts District was a community, a place “best experienced at street level”, and she urged people not to go directly from cars in a reserved parking space to their reserved seats in the Opera House. Take time, she said, to use the train, and experience the Arts District from street level.

The TEDx audience nodded and applauded as she talked. And then we all got into our cars, in the underground garage with reserved parking spaces, and drove home. I suspect that none of us have been back to the arts district since.

I certainly won’t be going to a $100 per person outdoor, BYOB and chair concert — and I doubt many Latino, African-American, or Asian families will either, despite the fact that Cuellar takes great pride in the Arts District’s location in the areas of town that began as Freedman’s Town and Little Mexico.

I wish there was more funding — either corporate sponsorships or government grants — so that arts organizations could become more accessible to more families.  The Dallas Arts District is beautiful. It’s a shame that most Dallas residents don’t get the chance to experience it except as they drive by on the freeway.

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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1 Response to Why More People Don’t Go to the Dallas Arts District

  1. Ken Licker says:

    Your article is a very good presentation of the problem with most of the venues in Dallas. The high prices and expensive parking costs deter many people who would otherwise take advantage of the many cultural offerings available. It is very difficult to justify tickets to a performance for 2 adults and 2 children that cost about $500 when you include parking. Most kids would be happy with a movie, and that amount buys a lot of movie tickets. I believe that until the operators of the theaters and museums see empty seats and galleries, nothing will change.

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